From a shaky start provincial broker Opus has set its sights on a significant acquisition.

Independent broker Opus is on the acquisition trail for a number of small brokers to reach a target of £30m gross written premium a year.

Opus chief executive Ian Brice told Insurance Times that the company is looking for "geographical and strategic" opportunities to consolidate its growth.

"We are looking at a number of smallish acquisitions and are in talks with IFAs and some general insurance brokers. We need something substantial to take that quantum leap into an area where the enterprise value will be significant."

He says the ideal acquisition would be one that "dovetails" into the Opus business. Brice was part of a management buy-out (MBO) team which bought out the UK retail arm of CE Heath in October 1998. The motivation behind the move was that Brice and colleagues did not want to be "swallowed up by a multinational".

The team secured the UK retail division excluding London.

"We are a provincial broker with a national presence," says Brice.

It did have its teething problems. Opus inherited the NHS trust business but, at the same time, the rules governing health trusts were changed.

"Overnight we lost £1m worth of business and, sadly, the staff in one of our offices in Scotland decided to walk away. This left a hole in our income and our initial business plan was a bit slower to get off the ground."

Since the MBO, the company has consolidated its business and now, according to Brice, it makes a "nice pre- and post-tax profit".

Its major equity shareholder is venture capitalist Bridgepoint Capital, previously Natwest Equity Partners which, rumour has it, has been investing heavily in a number of brokers and insurance-related companies.

In recent weeks, Opus poached a team of leisure specialists from Lloyd's broker Windsor to create Opus Leisure.

"We already have some major sporting clients, like the Welsh Rugby Union and the Millennium Stadium, and we want more. But we are also looking to get art galleries, museums and theatre groups into our portfolio," says Brice.

The broker also wants to take on more wholesale work and expand its presence in Lloyd's.